A guide to implementing artificial intelligence for the small to midsize business

A guide to implementing artificial intelligence for the small to midsize business
Michael Renz is director of product innovation at SAP.

Various cutting-edge technologies under the umbrella of artificial intelligence (AI) are receiving a lot of attention. As 2019 begins, there are many indicators that the AI boom will continue. New highs of computing power, paired with mind-boggling levels of data, will further accelerate the growth of AI and adoption in the business world. 

While the overall concept of AI is understood by the majority of businesses, it can be challenging for small enterprises to apply the theory to tangible applications and start the journey of establishing a coherent link between AI and business value.

For small businesses in particular, the initial surge of curiosity can quickly turn to disillusion as the novelty of the new approach wears off and real-world challenges such as lack of data, budget limitations and machine learning expertise kicks in. As a consequence, the focus is quickly shifting efforts to keeping the lights on, focusing on getting new leads and reducing costs the old-fashioned way. Part of the reason for this disconnect is that many organisations take the technology-first approach of searching for projects to leverage certain technologies: “where can we deploy a chatbot?”

Intelligent enterprise is not a technology but a journey, which starts by prioritising business scenarios and outcomes before assessing the extent to which the use of technology is meaningful. Technology is the enabler to build innovation into your business routines in order to make it more intelligent.

Benefiting from the latest tech trends

An intelligent ERP for the midmarket must be ready to learn as the business operates, which is fundamentally different to large enterprises where we see lengthy implementation projects and data scientist training the algorithms on huge data sets in order to automate processes – an approach which does not fit many midmarket companies.

The ‘intelligent enterprise’ concept is not a technology but a journey – prioritise business scenarios and outcomes before assessing the extent to which the use of technology is meaningful

Midsize businesses have limited scope to deploy technology as they often lack the time and resources to keep up with the rapid pace of change. They can find themselves in a dilemma: technology would help them to grow, become more efficient and streamline new business processes, but they have neither the time to be constantly on the lookout for the latest trends, nor the budget to afford them. Nevertheless, midsize businesses can benefit from the latest tech trends as much as the large organizations, by choosing the right business and technology partner that will scale with their business operations and help them get ready for the future.

It’s all about leveraging the perks of software as a service, which brings breakthrough innovations in a continuous delivery model to the doorstep of your business, keeping up with technology changes and responding to market and industry shifts faster. Selecting the right business and technology partner is essential for every midsize enterprise on their digital transformation journey. Specifically, when it comes to ERP technology, businesses need to ensure that the provider understands the business processes of their industry, that it has a robust roadmap and is truly committed to embrace artificial intelligence.

Riding the wave of enterprise applications

Getting started with AI in your small to midsized business (SMB) is easier than it sounds. If your business runs on an out-of-the box integrated ERP suite the starting point for your digital transformation to an intelligent enterprise is already set up for you, as your end-to-end business data already resides in one place, with consistent and continuous data.  

A starting point most large enterprises would aspire to, as many large organisations struggle to build up the AI foundation by dealing with lengthy and expensive integration projects to bring data together. This unified truth of data is what we call the “digital core” designed to help businesses succeed in the digital economy, tailored to ride the next wave of great enterprise applications.

The digital economy around the digital core is also changing the way we extend software, which is more and more loosely coupled with a traditional ERP system, where data entry moves away from today’s data entry forms and keyboards to a series of free tools around the digital core, which end-users are already familiar with. The ecosystem of these small helper tools around the digital core will grow exponentially, spearheaded by the Slacks, Alexas, and Siris of this world, starting with the business processes, which can be transformed into snack-able pieces, such as approvals, alerts and simple process steps, for example working hour recording.

With the trend of loosely coupled application open platforms, which offer state-of-the-art data interfaces to connect with mobile applications, sensors and cloud services become even more important to enable companies to automate their day-to-day business processes and better interact with their customers, suppliers and employees. Small to midsize business dynamism, willingness to adopt innovations, strong growth outlook and a desire to disrupt are best prerequisites to take-off into the intelligent era.

The quality and quantity of your data will directly impact the success of your transformation to an intelligent enterprise

But there are challenges too – SMBs may have limited resources and expertise, tighter budgets to acquire technology, and need to rely on a trusted partner to help them navigate the choppy waters in this fast-changing environment.

It is critical to partner with a technology leader to address the general market's lack of an AI-focused strategy that makes it easy and affordable for SMBs to consume breakthrough innovations via continuous delivery and be prepared for future business challenges.

Jumpstart with a single database

Data is the foundation of every journey to intelligence. The quality and quantity of your data will directly impact the success of your transformation to an intelligent enterprise. For SMBs without deep pockets of data, waiting for data to accumulate before putting a solution in place brings a high risk of falling behind the market.

Small to mid-sized businesses must take a different route to get ready for AI, which starts with having a unified and well-structured place for the business data, storing all transactional and analytical data in a single database, ready to be mined by intelligent services – which gives businesses a jumpstart into the intelligent era.

Intelligent services

Data on its own has no inherent value. Only when data can be used to improve business outcome is the actual value of data unleashed – that’s where Intelligent Services come in. For midmarket companies it is essential that the technology partner offers a wide range of out of the box intelligent services and is truly committed to continuously enhancing this portfolio to drive innovation with existing data.

By 2020 more or less every business process will be touched by AI in one way or another.  It is safe to say that technology will change the way we interact with machines, as it has over the last decade. The transformation isn’t a big bang approach, but a zero-up method of intrinsic Intelligence. For every decision the machine is about to make we move from a zero-confidence decision, which requires confirmation from humans, and repeatedly learn through iteration and increasing confidence until the outcome is so certain that the machine can fully automate it.

Editor’s note: Find out about SAP Business ByDesign  for small to midsize companies by visiting here and SAP Business One here.

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